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Cassandra's Diary.11

Day 229/5
Recuperating

I woke sometime in the mid-morning. It was quiet and, DeWinter, I supposed, had picked up my drawings and put them aside. He came in a few minutes later, bearing breakfast. As I ate, he told me that Fiona had taken him to give him a lecture on my proper care. I wondered at that. She never struck me as being particularly… attentive. I could see he wasn't thrilled at attention… he was quite adept at care giving, he'd done it for DoBlique for years and she was in far graver shape than I was. Still, he announced with some satisfaction that I was to stay in bed for 24 hours, per Fiona's instructions.

Looking at his face, I know that arguing with him about it would be more trouble than not, so I tried to give in gracefully, despite feeling fine, aside from a minor headache.

The day passed quietly and slowly. There wasn't much for me to do; I've always been outside, doing something. My rooms are usually for resting and sleeping, not convalescence. And DeWinter fussed, fluffing pillows, fetching the odd drink or book. The headache hadn't subsided, so he included a kiss every few hours, just for some relief. I worked, almost making this worthwhile. I can't really tell, but I think he was enjoying himself.

We read and talked. I did take the time to ask him about Oberon's cryptic statement. DeWinter shrugged and explained. In Aes, when Bleys had arrived to take care of Eric's Pattern attempt, they had encountered each other. Naturally, DeWinter challenged him to a duel. I tried not to wince at this. Bleys managed to talk him out of it by reminding him that gentlemen do not duel over acts of war, and he was merely the instrument of that war. Oberon should be the one he was angry with.

DeWinter was obviously annoyed by the exchange. Bleys had an answer to every argument. I think Bleys has been through this enough that the answers came easily. Still, I'm glad he succeeded. I did not relish the idea of going to either Random or DoBlique telling them that one or both had been killed. DeWinter then took the moral high ground, which Bleys supported and accepted. If I understand this correctly, he was willing for DeWinter to believe he was better, in the interest of keeping the peace. I'll have to remember that should I ever find myself in such a situation.

Well, when we were in Tir, when Oberon and DeWinter had touched palms, DeWinter had been thinking that this was the man who killed his mother; he was the one who DeWinter should have been able to kill. He was deep in some maudlin thoughts when he "heard" Oberon say that he could be a better person than Oberon had been. DeWinter shot back that he had forgiven Bleys, so he was a better man. Oberon's reply to that was what I heard. "You did the right thing. I would have done the same thing."

It was curious that Oberon had referred to himself in the past tense, as if he knew he was dead. DeWinter had wondered the same thing.

Sebastian had stopped by to see how I was. It was thoughtful, and unusual. Must not have anything happening in his life just then. I offhandedly asked if he could retrieve my knife from the moat. He gave me a perplexed look and I think decided I was kidding. I wasn't, really, but I had thrown it in, I should try and dredge it out.

I Trumped both March and Julian to see if they could stop by. March said he could, later this day, while Julian said he could be by the castle tomorrow. This was fine.

Later in the afternoon, March arrived, saying I was looking well. He'd wondered why I was confined to my quarters. DeWinter shot him a look to say that he should not encourage me. At least I had been able to convince DeWinter to let me sit in the outer room, in a chair. I wasn't comfortable with various persons tramping through my bedroom.

We had a rather convoluted conversation. I guess I wasn't making much sense because it took some effort for him to understand what I was working towards. If Evander discharges his full sentence, it will be another 135 years before he came move freely. That's over 1000 years in Aes. Tatasha would be long dead having already lived twice her age already. Though she shows no sign of debilitation, it could come quickly, almost certainly before the sentence was completed. On the pretense of bringing me copies of the survey done on my lands (March thought I was serious and I had to explain the pretense for appearance's sake) March will send Evander to deliver them. Once here, DeWinter previously agreed to fetch Tatasha so they could meet. I'm hoping for a surprise and a pleasant one at that.

When I explained the time difference between here and Aes, he jumped up, thinking he understood what I was asking and would "take care of it." I was confused because, well, frankly, March doesn't catch on to things so rapidly. When I inquired, he said he could change the time in Aes to match Amber. I had no idea! I'll have to see if there are any negative consequences and broach the subject with Tatasha.

After he left, Fiona came for another examination. She said that the concussion was healing fine, but there was a fracture. My head was a bit sore. She said I could leave my rooms, but I was to do nothing, not even horse riding, for a week. DeWinter sat back looking smug. Oh, he was enjoying this all too much.

I showed her my drawings. She said I was getting rather good at it. I was greatly pleased because I knew she wouldn't have said it unless she thought it true. She said that the gnarled man could have been Dworkin, though perhaps younger than she had known him. She wasn't a bit surprised that Deirdre was so vivid, compared to the others. She had been vivid in life. Also, she said that there might be some "harmonies" between us, meaning a close blood relation, I suppose. Still, there seemed to be more there.

I asked her about Faiella's mark and she confirmed that my great-grandmother had had one. It must travel through the women in the line. Then, to my surprise, she picked up the one of Oberon, looking at it critically. She remarked that Faiella might have been surprised by DeWinter's resemblance. She had died long before Oberon had decided to grow the beard we saw him sporting. In fact, she'd wandered the halls long after she'd died, which unnerved DeWinter a bit. It wasn't until she stopped that he grew the beard.

She left and DeWinter was a bit confuse. He hadn't caught her meaning just yet. I looked at him and in my mind, transposed the image of Oberon over what I saw. Oh yes, they were very much alike. Just like he and Oberon thought Faiella was I.

There was an eerie symmetry here. Oberon married Faiella. She died, knowing him as a younger man. Oberon had DeWinter who climbed to Tir. She had been badly startled, because he looked like the Oberon she had been searching for after she died. Now we are together, it's eerily circular.

We just looked at each other after I explained it, and he shook his head. "Damn strange family," he said. I could smell pipe smoke and heard a rich chuckle. Eric was enjoying it all! I asked if he didn't want to join us. DeWinter whirled around; knife at the ready for any intruder. The aroma faded and I knew he was gone. I reassured DeWinter, who repeated, "Damn strange family."

Day 230/5
Breakfast… a great way to start the day…

At least I got to go downstairs for breakfast. I had to take the stairs slowly as I was experiencing severe vertigo. I'm grateful that these steps are not of ice, and are solid. I focused ahead of me and held to DeWinter's arm, and it helped enough to get downstairs.

Sebastian and Simone were already there. Simone wore a breath-taking robe of silks, black and red with exquisite embroidery. I complimented her on it as I sat down.

The meal would have been a cheerful time but for Sebastian who was clearly in a foul mood. With the most minimal of prodding, he expounded on his grievance. The original deal was that DeWinter would come and stay for a week. He would then depart and DoBlique would be able to visit. When Random gave DeWinter an indefinite visa, he "broke their original deal". I understood his grievance and, in fact, felt a bit guilty. I hadn't thought DoBlique would be upset about DeWinter's fortune. It wasn't as if it would be for too long.

Sebastian's manner was what ruined the morning. He wasn't circumspect at all in his language. He referred to Random, sitting just down the table, in the rudest of terms, not the least that he was a "welcher". It was a new low for him and he'd been doing so well lately.

Of course, DeWinter felt responsible and said he would leave tomorrow. That way, DoBlique could visit. This wasn't what I wanted; I couldn't follow; not with restricted movement. I've grown fond of his presence, though perhaps I'm becoming a bit too clinging. I'm just afraid this isn't going to last and I want as much time as I can get with him. I think I'm taking Oberon and Faiella's story too close to heart. Besides, DeWinter may not have this opportunity for a while… why couldn't he be able to take advantage of it. I am positive DoBlique wouldn't mind.

I was now getting rather annoyed. I attempted to shut Sebastian up, trying to convey, blatantly, that Random was King and deserved a bit of protocol; not this public forum for humiliation. It didn't work. Neither did mentioning filial duties. He was determined to make his point, volubly and at length.

The others at the table had been lingering over their food and now gave up all pretense of not listening. Vialle was becoming increasingly upset, as was Simone.

Simone left the room and Sebastian followed. A minute later, Vialle stood and asking Random, "if he was happy", left as well. The room was filled with silence.

I attempted a segue into a different topic. I chose badly. I asked if anyone had an opinion of Tir. It did catch everyone's attention and Random shot it down-- as if with a cannon. He thought it was a stupid thing to talk about. Martin asked why.

Random said, "Well, let's look at who's gone there. Oh, Brand! That did wonders for him. And Dalt, there's another good example." Martin made a motion to Random to stop that line; he must have seen DeWinter's brow begin to lower. Random also cited Rinaldo and would have gone on if Martin didn't hold his hands up in surrender. Random got up and left the room.

Martin asked the room in general why Random was upset but there was no answer. He, too, left.

I thought that perhaps someone had told Random that we had gone to Tir and was angry because of it. That perhaps he thought DeWinter had walked that Pattern. I intercepted Random on the steps and tried to explain. Actually, I did explain and he understood, but not what I was trying to convey, I was thinking to ease Random's situation. DeWinter would be leaving tomorrow, he didn't have to endure the situation. . He wasn't in the mood for subtleties and our discussion ended quickly.

I admit I moped around the castle a bit. I would have gone to Tiryns, but I couldn't ride and I didn't know when Julian would arrive. It could be early in the morning.

That evening, Sebastian paid us another visit. This didn't go any more smoothly than breakfast. First, he asked me for a Trump of DoBlique so that he could call her. I tried, but rapidly got a severe headache from the effort. It wasn't going to work.

Sebastian brought up the whole subject again. It seems his strategy was to air his troubles so that Vialle would hear it, and intervene. I thought it was a silly excuse. If he wanted to play this game, he should pick something important, like petitioning himself out of the dungeons. I didn't say so, but DeWinter must have realized something was brewing. He repeated that he would leave and Sebastian insisted that this was none of his business, he didn't have to go. This was between Random and him. DeWinter left the room.

I raised an eyebrow. If this was between him and Random, why was he involving Vialle? He had no good answer to that and he quickly grew short. Once again, he was angry. He referred to me as "You people," as if members of the family were all elitist and snobs. In fact, he said as much.

He seemed to miss the point that this wasn't about royal privilege, but simple respect and decorum, subject to whomever he spoke to. Anyone deserves not to be publicly denounced, especially for something like this. I thought that he could work this out with Random, if only he just sat down and spoke to him. It is likely that Random might have had a good reason for his actions. For one thing, perhaps it was a convenient excuse to let DeWinter stay, allowing people to get used to his presence. Perhaps there were other reasons. But, Random was not necessarily answerable to Sebastian. In fact, with all the problems he has brought upon himself and, subsequently other people, it was the other way around. Couldn't he give Random the benefit of the doubt?

No. Sebastian was in a deep temper now. He said, in no uncertain but in insulting terms, which I will not record, that I was to disassociate myself from his business. He would solve his own problems and neither I, nor anyone, should meddle in his affairs.

I listened to his tantrum in silence. He would solve his own problems? I few minutes ago, he was asking for my help in contacting DoBlique. He was involving others in his squabble, but he was handling things on his own. Fine. I'll allow his illusion of being an island. I said I withdrew my advice and future help and would no longer involve myself. He left and my temper exploded. I am thankful that DeWinter didn't have to witness it.

Day 231/5
Frederick's funeral

We were awoken to a knocking on our door. Two packages were delivered by one of the castle staff. They were ornate clothing. It was then that I learned that Sebastian's manservant, who was close to Simone, had been killed. Actually, it happened a while ago and I still don't know all the details. It explained why Florimel had been wearing black lately. She had been making arrangements for the funeral, Chaos-style. It explained the new garments. They had wooden inserts in the shoulders so that the garment hung loosely down to the floor. In fact, you could hide a lot in the excess space. They were also singularly uncomfortable and insufferably hot, because the fabrics were heavy, not designed for airflow.

We walked up to where the tomb had been built, a good two hours by foot. It was a long procession, mostly quiet aside from some somber chants and songs. Simone held herself well, though she was understandably stony.

The attendees were some family and a scattering of nobles. I saw Lord Karm and Lord Feldane amongst them. Random and Vialle were there, with Florimel, Llewella, Queen Moiré, Capella and her "little" dragon. I would not have called the 60-foot creature little by any stretch of the imagination. Fiona, Owen, and Kent were there as well.

The entire ritual started at 21 bells and lasted until 3 in the morning. We stopped in front of the mausoleum as the casket floated along side. There were long speeches and more chanting. Florimel was kind enough to provide scores with which to follow the proceedings.

When we were done, Simone went to the casket, alone. She said a few words, though I couldn't catch them, and gently pushed the casket into the mausoleum. It floated inside and the tomb was closed.

Everyone went to her, to pay their respects. I told her if I could do anything, all she had to do was ask. Her eyes lit up a bit and said thank you. I'm not entirely sure if we were meaning the same thing, but she seemed pleased.

Everyone began the long walk back to the castle. Capella introduced me, to 'Beauty', the dragon. She pronounced my name oddly, looking to Capella for either encouragement or correction. It was easy to see that "little" meant she was just a baby. Lady knows how big she's going to get-- or how Capella will feed her. She was certainly sixty feet tall or, rather, long with silver scales not unlike a fish. She had 4 legs that stuck out at right angles to her body. By all accounts, she should have been ungainly, but I noticed she moved nimbly enough to not disturb a blade of grass as she moved. I got to rub her forehead a bit. That she enjoyed immensely. She butted me back a few feet in encouragement and while I recommenced, Capella introduced DeWinter. She faced him and pulled back. Beauty said he "smelled bad."

Curious. They had never met. She said he smelled bad, like the pirates. I got a dreadful feeling at that. My immediate thought was Dastard. They are close enough in blood that she might be mistaking the two. Could he have been behind the attack? Something to keep in mind.

As we walked back, I felt a strange tingling on my shoulders and neck. Sure enough, when I looked up, there was Tir, emerging as the clouds broke apart.

Day 232/5
Haunts

The early part of the day was pretty uneventful. I had the staff keep tabs on Tatasha's whereabouts. I planned to get her and Evander together for a bit, since she's probably not been able to see him since she arrived. I didn't say this, of course, but said I had a surprise. They were delighted to help and I got updates on her movements all morning. The fact is she spent most of the time in the library, reading.

Julian arrived mid-afternoon. He sat in Eric's old chair, the most comfortable one I have. I had tea set out. We settled down and he asked if DeWinter and I had made plans yet for our wedding. That threw me off a bit. I hadn't really done so. I wanted people to get used to the idea of him being around before such an event. Also, to be honest, I was waiting for DeWinter to say he loved me. I really think he does, but I've found it is important for me to hear him say it. I know it will be hard, I don't think the words come easily, but if he does say it, I know he'll mean it. I also know it could take a long time. So, I've put off plans until I'm sure. I won't pressure him about it, not make him oblige to return the words, should I say them first. I couldn't say this to Julian because a part of me thinks it would "jinx" it all.

I hemmed and hawed, saying I would think about it. He said it should be done soon. "Why?" I asked. Because something might come up later which would prevent such preparations. My, what a cheerful idea. Then he said I was in a unique position. He said Oberon had specific plans he was setting in motion. And, while Oberon never told anyone what those plans were, Julian thought I played some part. I would think any Amberite played some part. He asked how Myceneans handled marriage and I said with lawyers. Mycenea is a very practical place. He said he was sure DeWinter could find a lawyer.

I told him about Galantia and Tir. He wasn't entirely pleased about either. When I told him about our… revelations, and that Eric laughed at the idea here in my room, he quickly stood and circled the room, touching the walls and furniture. I don't think he was alarmed so much as to try and detect if he was there. He gestured that I should continue, so I did, though he was shifting his attention back and forth from the room to my story.

Eventually, when I began to tell him about Galantia, he finished and sat back down. He studied the picture of Rhiannon. He said there was some gratification in knowing she would survive her current preoccupation with tree climbing. I had to smile. She is a handful.

In regards to Tir, he echoed Random's concerns. That Pattern is very dangerous. It was the one that Dalt chose to walk. Luke as well. It could be what drove them to insanity or, at least, instability. Wonderful… I now have to watch to see if I'm going to go insane. Hopefully, walking Amber's Pattern and Corwin's twice each has mitigated that development. One can only hope.

There was a knock on the door. I knew it was DeWinter. He was really trying to give a good impression. He thought it inappropriate to let it be obvious he was staying in my rooms, with me. Despite the fact that it is common knowledge if anyone asked, he wanted to try and make a good impression. He was trying so hard for me and my reputation with Julian, he endeared himself to me even more. Opening the door, I saw he had changed, shaved, made himself as presentable as possible.

I let him in and he greeted Julian. Julian said good day and the silence fell. It was awkward, to say the least. DeWinter won't act like himself in front of Julian with me there (again, to not cast a shadow on my reputation) and Julian, well, the same. In exasperation I told them to make themselves comfortable. I had a minor task I forgot to check on and would be right back.

I left and headed for the library. A glance at my watch would allow me to time my absence. If the two see each other in small doses, they might come to some sort of understanding. Yes, I abandoned DeWinter, but I think he can handle it.

In the library, Capella and Tatasha were talking. Tatasha got Capella to explain how she escaped from the pirates. I only got an abbreviated story, but in effect Capella escaped by using the lock-picking skills she learned from Llewella. Honestly I would never have thought Llewella would have learned such a thing. Makes one wonder, hmm?

Tatasha said she would come to tea, though after she got a ride on Beauty. Somehow, I think she'd like it. The mantle clock showed me that I should return to my rooms, to prevent any flare-ups between DeWinter and Julian.

It was a nice thought. Too bad I never made it to my rooms. I got to the door, opened it and stepped into a hall full of mirrors. In the distance, if the mirrors hadn't reflected the door from elsewhere, I could see a door out. Behind me was a blank, stone wall.

The mirrors were of a wide variety of shapes, sizes, frames and materials. The rock was darker, almost black, similar to the walls in the dungeon. I followed the only path open to me and managed to dodge some flames that sprung up just as I passed. More cautiously I continued forward.

I heard some calling, "Help me!" I turned to see DeWinter in a mirror, tied to a stake and burning. But it wasn't a younger man; it was the DeWinter I know. My first thought was to reach out and rescue him. My second was that this had already happened. Could I change the past? What would happen if I did? I was not prepared to answer that question, nor the consequences. The flames were consuming him and it was all I could do to just put my hands over my ears and keep walking. This image is haunting me…

Further along a mirror with an iron spike frame activated. It was Merlin, looking just as I remember him. He said I had to get to the far door and to beware. I should not have any interactions with the mirrors, and accept no gifts. Then he was gone and I was looking at myself.

Two steps later, Evander called to me, offering me his dagger, his only legacy from Eric. Oh, I wish Merlin had said nothing. Which of the two are real. This was a younger Evander, before his capture. On one hand, I really wanted the dagger, but if I took it, would he have it to give to me when we meet in his future? I declined and he took it as a refusal of him, for not being there during any part in my life. I said I would take it, but not right now. He seemed to accept that and vanished.

I was close to the door when I heard a thunderclap from one of the mirrors. In the surface a green gout of energy floated. Galantia? Yes, indeed. She said I was to meet her at the shore under the moon so we could talk about the Pattern at Rebma. Then, she too was gone.

To my left flank I heard a voice, "Just wait to see what I've got planned for you, DoBlique!" Luke. I hurried past. I reached the doors and the sound of flames grew near. I hurled myself through…

… and was in my rooms. It was dark, aside from one burning candle. Evander's clock showed I'd been gone for hours.

I Trumped Julian who was actually unconcerned that I hadn't returned. I explained that I hadn't meant to be gone and explained I was trapped in the Hall of Mirrors. He understood and said DeWinter was looking for me. He seemed… distant. I'm not sure.

I found DeWinter in Random's rooms. I suppose Random kept him busy until I returned. They were surrounded by bottles. DeWinter lurched up when I entered and kissed me. Actually, it was very ardent and Random made a quick exit.

I stepped out of our embrace before things got a little out of hand. Random's office held little fascination for me in such things, not to mention rather invasive to both him and Vialle.

I got DeWinter out and toward our rooms. I told him I had an errand and he almost exploded. I've been gone for hours with no one knowing where I was and now I was leaving again for an errand? I didn't want to lie, and he was too drunk to get him to do anything. I explained about Galantia and I wanted to see if that, at least, was true. He elected to accompany me and I decided it would be quicker not to argue.

We went to the shore, the cool breeze and the walk reviving DeWinter considerably. We walked along the shore, waiting and watching. It was calm and quiet. I supposed that it was just an illusion. Still, all was not wasted. The moon was full and large, the sands soft, and I hardly need to explain how we decided to spend the night.

Unfortunately, as things had progressed wonderfully, I heard her voice; "Shall I return at a later time?" I jumped up and DeWinter swore; though he hadn't heard anything. A bit of experimenting and I found she was talking by using the water as a medium. She had spoken when the waves broke upon us.

I stepped into the water as DeWinter stepped into his trousers. The water was warm, so I decided I wanted dry clothes for the walk home.

I sat down further into the waves and DeWinter sat behind me, giving me a questioning look. I introduced DeWinter to Galantia and when she greeted him, to say he was startled would be an understatement.

The curious thing was that she asked why I needed to speak to her. But she had called me. Apparently not. Somehow the mirrors had me contacting her to ask about the Rebman Pattern and visa versa. I said that it might reflect my comment that I had almost walked all the Patterns, the last being Rebma's. She corrected me by reminding me I hadn't walked the Primal Pattern. True. I forgot I had walked the Primal Pattern in UnderShadow, not here.

DeWinter spoke up; asking if she was a dragon as the legends portrayed her. No, she wasn't a dragon, though it had been a convenient form from time to time. He continued talking with her, and he asked her about Lilith, a little problem of ours. Galantia knew of Lilith and said she was not a little problem. That we all agreed upon. Then, she asked if he wanted Lilith's attention deflected. He paused a moment then hesitantly said yes, that would be nice. She essentially said that she would do so because of my help with the 7 Ill-dragons.

There was silence for long moments. We spoke and I wondered if there had been a time limit. There was no response. We sat for a while, not yet willing to leave. Then she spoke again; saying the matter was done. That stunned the both of us. Lilith is very powerful, yet in the span of five or ten minutes, she had done this. It was daunting, to say the least. DeWinter cleared his throat and thanked her. If Lilith is as powerful as the others have explained, how powerful is Galantia to do this, that quickly? It was boggling. Galantia said we would have to take care to not attract Lilith's attention. That, we could do.

I had another question for her but DeWinter had anticipated me. He asked if she ever talked with Oberon. She said she had done so frequently. He asked, then, if she knew of any curse on his side of the family. There was another pause, this time only a few minutes, and she said there was no curse upon him. Oberon had reserved his curses for the Courts.

I leaned back into him, to give support. It would have been easier for him if there had been a curse. His world was evaporating quickly and I don't know if I can replace it with something, with enough. DeWinter was silent for a while, gathering up the courage to ask another question. Quietly, he asked if Oberon had raped his mother, Deela. There was no pause, she softly said "no".

He cursed quietly, resting his head on top of mine. He asked what had happened. Deela had captured Oberon, and she used his Circumstances against him. There was no need to say how horrible it must have been for Oberon and DeWinter was paying for it, with his conscience.

I asked a final question. Where could we learn why DeWinter could not have children? She said that we could find answers in Tir or Castle Black. Why? She said she could not see the answers, only that the answers might be there.

We had all the answers we could handle right then, especially DeWinter. We thanked her and I said if she ever needed my help, it would be given. DeWinter echoed this and Galantia bade us good-bye.

We rose and I dressed. He said that I shouldn't take things personally, but he wasn't in the mood anymore. With all that was told to him, he was only a little brusque. Amazing control.

The walk up to the castle was slow. He had a lot to absorb. I apologized that I could not tell him about what I heard about his mother. I had been told in confidence. He said that it was better that way. Actually, I didn't know if what I had been told was more true than his version. I knew Julian believed it, but that didn't make it the whole story.


Day 233/5

We didn't bother with sleeping, just went to get an early breakfast. We had decided to try Castle Black before Tir, again. Besides, Tir wouldn't appear for another month.

I went to see Random. The first I did was to ask how he was. That whole situation with Sebastian might still be hanging there, bothering him. He said he was fine and I asked if there was anything I could do for him. He thought a moment and wrote onto a piece of paper. He handed it to me and said I should read it after I left.

I asked about the Hall of Mirrors and he said not much was known about it. He did say that for a long time, it appeared perhaps once every 50 years or so. Now it was much more active. He said there were as many reported sightings in the last decade or so. He did remark that it was very unusual that Merlin would have warned anyone about accepting gifts; causing me to wonder if I could have taken Evander's dagger… and if what I saw might come to pass. I was not having a good morning.

I asked about DeWinter's visa. Was it indefinite as long as he stayed there or could he come back? Random looked curiously and said, he could come back. "Indefinite means just that." I think I was supposed to have picked up on the meaning.
I got back to my rooms and told DeWinter who was un-surprised. He knew what the visa meant. I was feeling pretty silly. But, that wasn't going to end just yet.

Evander arrived with the blueprints and I invited him in on the pretense that I wanted to make sure they were correct. We spoke for a bit. DeWinter excused himself and went to get Tatasha. When she arrived, it was almost a painful meeting. She was really happy to see him, in her boisterous, outgoing way and he was very proper in his stiff, imperious way. She plied him with questions that got her monosyllabic answers. It was clear she wanted to know more about his life and how he was, and it was equally clear he found her manner difficult to adjust to.

He couldn't stay longer without jeopardizing his cover. Tatasha rose, dispirited, and offered her cheek for his dutiful kiss. That done he went to the door. I met him there to see him out, and said she was really happy to see him. He said he was happy to see her. I remarked, in a low tone, that she probably doesn't know that. I think he was surprised. He turned back and went to her. To her, and our surprised, he gave her a long hug. She pulled him close and I think she was ready to cry.

He kissed her on the cheek again and said he was happy he got to see her. She said he should take care of himself, that she loved him. He nodded, more to return the sentiment rather than just accepting it. Then he was gone.

DeWinter was amazed. Evander's so… stiff. Tatasha was glum. She blamed herself, regaling Evander with stories of Eric's "perfection", stories that weren't the entire truth or easily lived up to. Evander was trying, though.

I tried to cheer her up, saying he was up for promotion. She smiled, happy that all was not grim. Every promotion meant ten years off his sentence. She said he took his oath seriously and would never jeopardize his honor by breaking it. It also meant he'd have few friends since he would do his duty as perfectly as was possible. That would earn resentment at almost every level. Add that to the fact that he seemed to be singled out by Prince Gerard, and his life must be difficult. I wonder if Evander knew what was in store for him, would he have still tried?

The conversation turned to Eric. She missed him terribly and began to cry. DeWinter left his seat and knelt down next to her. He said she did the best anyone could do for Evander, and if he takes honor seriously, or is different in manner, he was still a good man. He couldn't see her raising a child to be anything else. She smiled and kissed him on the cheek.

I Trumped Byslamia after Tatasha left the room, asking her to look after Tatasha a bit while we left Amber for a few weeks. I don't think Tatasha was ready to leave Amber, but she needed some support. Both Mother and Tatasha missed Evander; perhaps they could find consolation with that.

As dusk fell, we left Amber. Julian met us as we were leaving. I told him about Galantia and for just a moment he seemed worried. All he could find out about her was that she was a dragon and associated with another being named Lir. They had aligned with Oberon to fight the Courts in the early years. Lir had been killed and no mention of Galantia was ever made again. He escorted us for a bit and then we were out of Arden. He knew where we were going by the path we were taking. I was unaware of that, but it's good to keep in mind.


Day 234/5
On the Road Again

I've been trying to Trump Sebastian, but have received no response. I was trying not to invade his time with DoBlique, since I assume he went there with Simone. I'll have to keep trying each day.

The Shadow walk was eerie. Today, for instance, there were mists everywhere and in the distance there were howls from wolves. A thought occurred to me and I turned to DeWinter. Was he leading? He looked abashed and said no, of course not. I shook my head and told him of my first Shadow walk, when Martin was leading and I "helped". When I got to the part of the troll emerging from under the bridge, all of us running for cover and getting lost. He laughed heartily. Well, in hindsight, it was pretty amusing.

He said his first time entailed being buried under an avalanche for days until he could dig his way out. My, my. That must have been fun.

DeWinter said we should probably talk about the wedding. I asked where we would have it. We could have it in Amber. He muttered something about a church wedding. I assured him that wouldn't be the case, especially since I had never even seen the place much less walked into it. He thought that odd. Well, the Church existed because of the Unicorn, not the other way. If, and I'm not conceding this argument, I had any connection with the Unicorn, it did not mean I was of the Church, nor associated with it. He thought about it for a moment then seemed to accept it.

We could go to Mycenea, but it didn't seem right. I said Tatasha would be thrilled if we had it in Aes, she certainly had a large enough castle to accommodate all the people that might arrive.

He liked that idea and the first issue was settled. He said that Julian seemed to expect to give me away in the ceremony, though I seemed to like him a lot. That's right, things are opposite here from my own kingdom. Could we blend the two traditions together? I said that Julian has done more as a father than Evander ever did, or can do anytime soon. In fact, Julian is more like my father that IS while Evander is still trying to become one, as much as he can in his position. DeWinter winced and said he knew I was going to say that. He said he would try to like Julian. I could only smile; it isn't always easy to like Julian. At least that's other people's perception. I've not found it difficult, but we tend to think alike on many issues. DeWinter agreed on that score.

We talked a bit more. I had an idea. Mycenean wedding often involve little gifts to commemorate the event. With Amberites, it would be more difficult. After all, they can get whatever they want by just doing a little walking. I thought I could make personal invitations, with illuminated borders in their individual colors. Matching that with stationary (an implied message that I wanted to keep in touch) might be a nice idea. It would mean a lot of work. DeWinter scratched his chin saying he hadn't thought about anything like that. He'd have to think about it. I said he could if he liked, there was no pressure for him to do so. He shrugged and said he'd think about it.

Then he said the ceremony should be indoors. Why? Because it would rain. Really, he can be so pessimistic. I found a Shadow with hot springs. No sooner than we were in the water and it started to rain. He just looked at me and I couldn't help but laugh. Indoors, it would be. He chuckled and we sat in the warm water, rather than in the cold drizzle.


Day 238/5
Return to Castle Black

I put off arriving at Castle Black as long as I could. There was still no response from Sebastian, but it should have been two weeks for him, there. He'll have to deal with visitors.

The rain had continued steadily as we rode. By the time we reached the Castle, it was a serious downpour. The guards couldn't really see us, I suppose, for they challenged us right away. Sigh. I guessed we'd have to fight to get in but DeWinter bellowed for them to "knock it off!" And we were inside.

One of her dog-men met us and took us to a little salon. She must have replenished her staff because some insect-like… things came in with wood and started a fire. We stood, warming ourselves and drying off and DoBlique entered soon after. We must have looked a sight, dripping and bedraggled. She ordered some tea, the black sizzling drink I didn't have the last time I was here, and some blankets.

Apparently Sebastian had left a week ago, only saying he would be out of touch for a while. That could mean anything. I do hope he doesn't get into too much trouble.

DoBlique gave us her rooms, actually she insisted. I protested but DeWinter said no, we should use her rooms. Later he said that she doesn't keep up the areas in the castle where she does not frequent. She also doesn't keep an eye on the servants. As a result, any guestrooms were probably dusty and having inhabitants all their own. He's seen that and was used to it. But, it was not good enough for me. I could have dealt with it, without complaint but he severed that argument by saying DoBlique would be embarrassed by having us see her cleaning the rooms, even if it was by magic and done within minutes. I had to give in then.

Her castle had little in the way of amenities, not even a fireplace in her bedroom. It was very chilly and I dived for the covers. There were many layers and it was nice to sink into the comfort. It was nicer when DeWinter added his warmth. We weren't cold for long.

We were really comfortable when, (without warning even from my armband) about a hundred pounds hit us from above. Instinctively, I struck out and hit something, or someone. There was a surprised yelp and both of us were standing, swords in hand. I've been ambushed while sleeping enough to keep a sword nearby. I guess it was the same for DeWinter. He said he had me covered, see if I could get some light.

When we could see, we were still standing. Our assailant was a red-skinned woman. She was holding her stomach with one hand and a bloody nose with the other. I asked DeWinter which injury he thought he did. He examined his hand and said judging by the teeth marks, he had gotten her nose.

The woman looked balefully at us and held up her hands. "No need to get all excited, wrong room, no harm meant." She said she was a guest of DoBlique's. I rang for a servant and sent him to get DoBlique. The dog-man started to cry, but did as he told.

We waited and there was a thunderous clash. I jumped, startled and asked DeWinter what that was. He shrugged and said the servant had woken DoBlique. Really, these two!

DoBlique arrived and was not pleased to see the woman there. Her name was Trouble. Really, it was. DoBlique apologized and hauled the woman away. It was terribly cold in the room and I got back into bed.

DeWinter was perturbed by the whole affair. Despite the cold, he paced the room. He knew of a demon named 'Trouble'. More specifically, she was an assassin demon. Why was she here and what was DoBlique up to? I said I'd ask DoBlique but he said she wouldn't tell me.

Was there any relation to Ire? He shook his head. "Not really." There were no real relations between demons, not as he understood them. No one knew where demons came from and they were alien in how they thought and lived. And in fact, Ire was a Morrighan, which is an arcane creation, always done on purpose. I relaxed and told him about Ire. He was amazed that Julian could be tricked for such a long time. Not to mention how angry he was when he found out.



Day 239/5
The Hard Way... as usual

We rose before the rest of the Castle, DoBlique usually being a later riser. We were surprised to find Simone there. I wouldn't have thought Sebastian would leave her so soon after she lost her mother. I questioned his judgement on this.

Still, Simone seemed to be cheerful, talking extensively about learning magic from DoBlique and what she knew of demons and the like. She was incredibly enthusiastic throughout. DoBlique eventually arrived and we just talked. We agreed to meet at lunch to discuss why we were here. Simone asked why she wasn't invited and DoBlique said because she would be fasting. That was an alien concept and she didn't like the idea at all once it was explained. Still, he went off to do her meditation.

We spent the morning walking around the Castle. It really is large. We met for lunch and DoBlique expressed her concerns. She had agreed to Sebastian that she would mentor Simone while he was away. Now, she was concerned about her legal standing. What would happen if Sebastian didn't like what Simone was learning? What should she be teaching her? What would happen if anything happened to Simone?

The only advice I could give was to tell her to ask Owen. She had four children and would know if DoBlique were getting into trouble with Random, the King and Simone's great-grandfather.

Then we talked about why we were here. She and DeWinter proposed any number of people who could have done this to them. The Church of the Unicorn, because of their activities years ago, Deela, Dastard. They said it was something Dastard would do. He tended to work behind the scenes. I asked if that would include inciting a group to make an assault on Amber. DeWinter's eyes grew a little wide with comprehension. Beauty said he "smelled bad" like the pirates. If Dastard where working them, influencing them, she may have picked that up. He was not happy about this new turn.

There was little to do beyond speculation. But somewhere in this Castle there had to be something for us to find. Some clue. Something similar to both here and Tir. They were both Castles, but that's as far as I could go. DoBlique said we could look around if we liked and she went off to find Simone.

Well, the best place to start would be from the bottom and work our way up. DeWinter said there was nothing in the lower levels. Still, I wanted to be thorough. We got some lanterns and went down. It was indeed quite empty. It was also in a horrible state. Water was running through the foundation, if DoBlique wasn't careful, the whole thing would be falling down around her ears in a few years. I got some paper and started to make notes on possible repairs. It was going to be extensive. There were even mushrooms growing through the stone floor, indicating a very serious problem. I gathered some up, just in case they would provide some answers.

At the far end of the basement, behind some debris, there was a small circular stair going down. My mind immediately flashed to the stairs in both Tir and Amber. Could there be a pattern down here?

I started down and DeWinter asked why, there was nothing down there. I couldn't explain just then, it would have sounded silly. It was oppressively dark and the stairs were old and slick. We came to a level and found skeletons and corpses all around. Orcs, dog-men, and other things. DeWinter gave a whistle at this and we continued on.

An hour later we were stopped by a door. It was jammed but by bracing against the stairs we managed to kick it in. Scarabs scuttled away as the light penetrated the darkness. We saw more bodies as we walked. What could have done this? We were now in a cavern, though this didn't surprise me. I counted and sure enough, there was a seventh one. We took that one and DeWinter asked what I was doing. I asked, in return, if he really wanted my feeble reasoning about all this. He thought and said, no, not really.

We met another door, barricaded with metal, long rusted. There were three levels, as if it once was a cage. It was almost no effort to remove it, so if anything was inside, it could have gotten out a long time ago. I wasn't really expecting anything alive in there.

The door fell with a loud thud as it fell apart. Shining our lantern inside there was indeed a Pattern in there. But not like Amber's, nor like the one in Aes. This one had many breaks along the path and it was black. The flickering light of the lantern made it look like it was writhing on the floor. This was so very wrong.

I started backing up as DeWinter exclaimed at the sight. "What the hell." I rapidly explained the signs that it would be here, but not like this. Something was very wrong. We had to get out. He started backing away as well.

Of course, now my armband went off. Just as a sound reach us, the sound of something dragging. From the dark came two dead trolls. They moved slowly so it was easy to get rid of them. But we'd seen the bodies. There could be a lot more.

I shouted to run and we both took off. Unfortunately, the light did not shine in front of us far enough to avoid a headlong rush into a mass of bodies. Swords out, we began hacking our way to the stairs.

They crowded us and I could feel their knives bite into me as I fought. It was too close in quarters for battle. I yelled for DeWinter to cover me. He said he had it and I got my Trump out. Nothing. They weren't even cold.

We moved by inches and feet, the tide slowing us down. Then came the scarabs. They were too small to hit, with everything else around us and I felt them scuttle up my legs and into my clothes. From within, they began to bite and eat.

I got a Trump call but was too busy to take it. Any deviation from my concentration would be my end. I blocked it and continued to fight. Up ahead, I could see the stairs. At the rate we were going, it would be many minutes before we reached them. I was getting badly cut, enough so that I wondered if I could make it all the way up.

The Trump call came again, this time much stronger than before. In fact, it was strong enough that the caller could hold the connection. I let it open, keeping most of my concentration of the horde. It was Owen. DoBlique must have Trumped her for advice. I managed to say something like, "Dead things, lots. Can't come through. We're in lots of trouble."

DeWinter shouted over his shoulder for her to do something. Owen said to hang on, as if we had a choice in the matter. I wouldn't abandon DeWinter down here, no matter what how highly I thought of his fighting skills. But to Trump out, I'd have to make the connection and bring him through. That would mean we'd both have to stop fighting. Not an option. I really have to get that Trump of him made!

Then, next to us a shimmering archway appeared. What the hell? Owen shouted that it was a gate. We could both come through. I hadn't even heard of such a thing. I shouted to DeWinter that we would have to jump for it. He said I should go low, he'd go high. On the count of three, I dove out and down while he went high. We rolled away as Owen shut down the gate, various body parts being severed in the process.

I stayed down, getting my clothing off quickly. The scarabs were unbearable now. It was my perception, and there probably weren't that many, but it seemed that scores crawled out. Owen, Kent and Trouble, who was now in full twelve-foot tall demon form, began to crush them underfoot. DeWinter did the same and we killed the rest.

Still gaining our breath, I said there was a broken Pattern down there. DoBlique was dismayed. We had broken into the Labyrinth? Both DeWinter and I turned to her and said, "You knew about that?" at the same time in almost the same words. She sighed. Yes, she knew about it.

We had a problem now. This was looked far more deteriorated than the one in Aes. It could explain the castle. It did explain DoBlique and DeWinter. She said they had all walked Broken Patterns, but their memories of that were gone. She thought that DeWinter had walked it when he was very young, perhaps in his teens. He had a lot of missing memories. So did she. But it did explain why he could travel through Shadow.

She went to see to things as we recovered. Kent tended to my wounds as Owen did for DeWinter. It was a good thing that DoBlique was gone because DeWinter was in a foul mood and not saying particularly pleasant things.

Trouble came to the door looking, well, troubled. She said we should run. We were up on our feet. Why? She gave a wince of pain and collapsed. Owen and I went to her and we saw DoBlique walking toward us. She was smiling and looking very happy. As she approached, my armband went off. I drew my sword again and DeWinter asked what was going on. I wished I had an answer.

She stopped walking and looked puzzled at us. She said everything was fine. I circled around and asked where Simone was. She said upstairs. I told Owen I was going to look for her. Owen nodded, keeping her attention on DoBlique.

I raced up the stairs and ended up at DoBlique's lab. Inside Simone was standing in the room, around her black lightning bolts seemed to writhe. Oh, this was not good.

I called her name and she turned to me. Her eyes were a solid black and she was smiling. She said everything was going to be all right. DoBlique was going to be her mother and they were going to kill all of House Merquier. Oh, Lady.

I talked to her, getting her outside the room. I remembered Beth, just then. So alike, so much wanting the world to be right for her. I also remembered the consequence. I alternated my tone between being reasonable and commanding. She's so used to obeying her elders, I thought she might instinctively follow instructions. No such luck.

So, I lied. The first, blatant lie I've told in years. I told her we had to rescue Sebastian, we needed her. But, she couldn't help unless she gave us her full cooperation. And she couldn't do that unless she stopped what she was doing. I tried to convince myself that Sebastian could be in trouble, he wasn't answering his calls. But, it was more to give myself a convincing tone than anything else was. If nothing else, Sebastian would be in trouble if I met him anytime soon.

Behind me were steps. I moved to be able to watch both Simone and to see behind me. Yes, more dead people. I appealed to her kind nature, saying these things were hurting Owen and DeWinter and Kent. She had to stop them. She made a gesture and they disintegrated. "They won't hurt anyone here, now."

I continued to talk her down. Gradually her eyes began to regain their normalcy. She said she felt sick, and began to shake. I took the chance and Trumped Owen. I pulled her through and she took a moment to review the situation. I think I know her well enough to say she thought the situation serious indeed. She stepped between Simone and the lab.

The lightning bolts moved toward the door as Simone collapsed. I caught her as the bolt hit the open door. I shielded Simone from harm watching Owen over my shoulder.

The bolt hit the doorway and disappeared. Owen said, "Pattern defense." The other strands came forward and were equally destroyed. Simone collapsed, dazed.

We took her downstairs. Everyone else was fine. DoBlique was unconscious, but breathing regularly. Owen tended to them as I tried for Sebastian again. Nothing.

Simone was going to need someone. I Trumped Martin. All I said was that Simone was in trouble and he asked to come through. Once there, we explained the situation. He said he would be back, and disappeared through a Trump card.

He Trumped back, wearing something he called a "flame-thrower suit". He said that we would have to go back down and destroy the Broken Pattern. I wasn't entirely keen on the idea, but it had to be done. He, DeWinter and I retraced our steps. He went ahead from time to time, to clear out the dead that were till attacking. Eventually, we found ourselves back at the Pattern. He examined it and I told him what Bleys had done. He listened and then started to walk it.

He walked it as if it were a normal Pattern, not like Bleys. But, he walked it "Rebman-style" which meant backwards. Curious. It took an hour, but in the end it wasn't broken, but it was much weaker than any Pattern I knew.

We went back upstairs. Simone was awake, but very tired and confused. Owen had taken her into another room so they could talk. Martin looked like he wanted to go in, but decided against the idea just then.

I went upstairs and got clothing for DeWinter and myself. Most of the staff had run from the castle at the first sign of the dead, so we fended for ourselves for food and drink. By the time we were done, some had started to come back. Martin explained that what he had done meant the Pattern is not broken now, but it is imperfect reflection.

I did get a moment to speak to Martin. I asked him how long he'd been out in Shadow since… well, Beth. He said it had been a while. He looked like I could talk to him, that bringing up such a topic wouldn't be too painful. I felt keenly the similarity between Beth and Simone's situation. Both wanted something so badly that it had consumed them. In Simone's case, her grief had taken over. She had done a fine job of hiding her pain. Martin, having been involved with Beth would be the best person to talk her through this. He said he hated being the best person for things like this. I understood. I wouldn't be pleasant for either of them, but maybe they would be good for each other.

He changed the subject and said that we hadn't gone dancing in a long time. I smiled. That would be nice. It had been a long time. He even said I could bring DeWinter, though he misspoke his name a few times. I gave him a light punch on the arm in remonstration and he laughed. On impulse, I gave him a hug and said it was good to see him.


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